Carl Thompson was shocked to learn he’d been named this year’s Red Hat Certified Professional of the Year— understandable, given that he’d never submitted an application for the prestigious award.
The idea of applying for an award rubs the unassuming Thompson the wrong way — he’s not a toot-your-own-horn kind of guy.
But a colleague familiar with his work quietly conspired with co-workers to fill out and submit the application to Red Hat, a leading provider of open source software.
Announcing the honor, Red Hat called out Thompson’s creation of a unique Red Hat Satellite, a user-friendly system management product that helps Rackspace keep Red Hat infrastructure running securely and efficiently.
Red Hat also noted that Thompson wrote a complete remote procedure call application programming interface to the Red Hat Network Portal, which enables Rackspace Fanatical Support staff to use Red Hat Satellite more flexibly. It also automates tasks such as new server registration, patch deployment and rolling point upgrades, all of which reduce the amount of time it takes to deliver servers to customers.
So while the award may have been a surprise to the 47-year-old Dayton, Ohio native, it wasn’t to anyone who has worked with this talented, results-driven principal architect.
Thompson is part of Rackspace’s Technical Career Track (TCT), which allows top technical talent the chance to take on executive-level leadership positions without having to manage people or give up their technical work. It’s an elite group — only about 50 Rackers are in the TCT now. To be eligible, employees must already be at the top of their technical track.
Thompson’s path to the top was neither linear nor traditional.
At age ten, he said, “I started messing around and writing programs, and played with that through my teenage years.”
But after high school, Thompson joined the Coast Guard, working as a mechanic. After that, he moved to Houston and did alarm work with his father for nearly a decade.
Injured on the job, Thompson “started playing with computers again, fooling around with Linux.”
A few months later, Thompson, who’d never received any formal technical training, began working at a web hosting company in Houston. It was 1998.
By then he’d gained the nickname “Redragon,” a nod to both the red dragon tattoo he sports on his left forearm and the user name he devised for his very first Internet access account.
“This was back when the Internet started to bounce around and people were getting off bulletin board services,” Thompson said. “I was using a service in which your username could only have eight characters and “RedDragon” has nine. So, I took out one of the d’s, and it’s been my nickname for more than two decades.”
Thompson started at Rackspace as a Level II Linux Administrator in 2007. Six months later, he took the exam to become a Level III Linux Admin, then became a senior systems engineer for an after-hours team being built for Linux in Austin. He worked in that role for four years, taking courses and exams through Rackspace University along the way, eventually becoming a certified architect for Red Hat.
“I moved into that role, and before I even started, I was drawn into meetings about various outages that were happening,” Thompson said. “So, I re-architected our eDir [directory service] infrastructure and our Linux patching infrastructure here.”
It was that sort of matter-of-fact, problem solving leadership that led Thompson to be nominated and chosen for the TCT. Like others in the program, Thompson wanted to keep doing the technical work he loves.
The TCT has been a great fit. As noted in a recent article by NetworkWorld, the one-of-a-kind program “helps employees avoid the mid-career plateau that can stymie technical people’s advancement, and it helps Rackspace avoid losing experienced people to attrition.”
“What’s great about the TCT,” he says, “is that it gives me the opportunity to advance my career while working with other departments on bigger projects than those I might work on in my department alone,” he said. “So it’s not just the career advancement, which is nice, but it also expands the boundaries of who I can work with and the size of the projects that I can work on.”
Rackspace Vice-President and Associate General Counsel Van Lindberg, who heads up the TCT program, said he wasn’t surprised at all to hear that Thompson won the coveted Red Hat award.
“Rackspace manages upwards of 40,000 Red Hat Enterprise Linux systems around the world,” Lindberg said. “Carl’s solution made managing all of them more efficient, more scalable, and more reliable. And as one of our technical executives, his leadership makes a difference throughout the company.”
Thompson will travel to Boston next week to accept his award at Red Hat Summit 2015.